Pros & Cons of Fabric Softeners

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Fabric softeners can make clothes smell good, but many contain harmful chemicals.

They come in tantalizing fragrances. We see them on television advertisements and manufacturers often offer coupons for them. But are fabric softeners worth it? One researcher from the University of Washington discovered that fabric softeners sometimes have ingredients not advertised.


Fabric softener comes in both liquid form and dryer sheets. Choose which type works best with your lifestyle.

How They Work

Fabric softeners condition much the same way as hair conditioners. Most fabric softeners consist of water mixed with animal-, plant- or mineral-based surfactants. The surfactants lie on the fabric's surface, making it feel softer. Fabric softener dryer sheets coat clothes in a waxy substance that also makes the clothes feel softer.


Fabric softener softens clothes and adds a fragrance to them. Fabric softeners can also reduce static cling.


Fabric softeners contain potentially hazardous chemicals, but manufacturers don't disclose those chemicals on labeling, according to a researcher at the University of Washington. In one test of a fabric softener sheet, the researcher found two hazardous chemicals that the federal government regulates.

Health Problems

Fabric softener scents can trigger asthmatic attacks or breathing problems in sensitive individuals, according to "Ecologist," an environmental publication. The common fabric softener ingredient ethanol is highly flammable and can cause skin and eye irritation.


Claudia Stanic

Based in Arizona, Claudia Stanic has worked for newspapers since 2007. Her work has also appeared in the magazine "Arizona Highlands." Stanic has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Temple University and has won numerous awards from the Arizona Newspaper Association.